The View From Here

What is the Future of Space?

Written by: developer

What is the future of space? I have to confess up front that I don’t have the answer. I do have lots of questions. Of most immediate concern is the new administration’s ideas about space policy. What’s the plan? What’s the budget? Are we going to jettison all things Obama, or make more gradual course corrections? There have been a number of recent articles trying to discern that, but predictability has not been one of the characteristics associated with this transition.

I just read a good perspective in The Space Review by Roger Handberg, titled “Fixing the U.S. space exploration program.” He says we need to do a better job of working well with others, think joint projects. And he finishes with a conclusion I applaud: Rhetoric and policy must come into alignment if the future is to be seized. 

Reminds me of a favorite quote by Dennis Gabor, “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.”

The Mercury Project, Godspeed John Glenn, Gemini, Apollo, one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, the Hubble telescope, an incredible legacy. There have been failures, too, but there has never been a thought of turning back. Our beloved Buzz Aldrin, an Honorary member of the Space Foundation Board of Directors, said that, “Exploration is wired into our brains. If we can see the horizon, we want to know what’s beyond.”

The Hubble has expanded our horizon exponentially. It changed the way we see the universe and our place in it. Get ready for the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in October 2018. It will scan in the infrared and be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble. It will orbit the sun, a million miles away from the Earth, and be able to see the first galaxies that formed after the big bang 13.5 billion years ago. Our horizons are going to expand to the dawn of time.

NASA is working on the Asteroid Redirect Mission to identify, capture and redirect a near Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the Moon, where astronauts will explore it in the 2020s, returning with samples. This is in preparation to begin a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. To accomplish this, they are developing the Space Launch System, designed to be the world’s most powerful rocket, topped with a new crew capsule, the Orion.

While these plans could be altered by a new administration, NASA has a host of other exciting projects that will increase our knowledge of the planet we call home, and boost technological advances that drive the boundaries of exploration. Research from the International Space Station continues to provide new insight that will lead to new products, even new industries. The Curiosity Mars Rover is unveiling the planet that we have marveled at for centuries. The Juno spacecraft arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and is now in orbit, sending back astounding pictures and data.

The Space Report, a publication of the Space Foundation that makes an annual assessment of the state of the global space economy and the trends affecting its growth, puts the global space economy at $323 billion in 2015, slightly less than the year before. But that is mostly attributable to the strength of the U.S. dollar, resulting in other major currencies converting to amounts 10 to 20 percent lower. Commercial revenues constituted 76 percent of the space economy, unchanged from the year before. Revenue for commercial space products and services rose 3.7 percent to reach $126 billion. Infrastructure and support industries added another $120 billion to the tally for the commercial sector. There were 86 orbital launch attempts, 26 from Russia, 20 from the U.S., 19 from China, 11 from Europe and a handful from other countries. The race for space is competitive, and it’s not just a government game anymore. Some of the most exciting things are happening on the corporate side. Please note that 2016 global space numbers will be available in The Space Report 2017 when it goes on sale in June.

The Space Foundation is an equal opportunity supporter of all things space, and all companies that participate in space, so I am reluctant to single out a handful and miss any of the basketful. But it is safe to say that the drive for profit may bring more creativity and financing to space than discovery or security can match. Satellite capabilities are expanding, while weight and size are shrinking. The ability to launch multiples of satellites at a time, combined with the imminent progress of rocket reusability, is slashing the cost. Worldwide internet broadcasts from a satellite to your personal receiver is coming. We’re going to have better weather forecasting. We’re going to have better environmental monitoring. Would you like to take a trip into space? Get ready! Do you think we can go to Mars? Who will be first? Who will be next? When can we all go?

The Space Foundation has a lot of questions, and we are seeking the answers. Every year, we host the largest symposium in the world, bringing together other seekers who dream of space and want to be a part of it. More than 9,000 space professionals from governments and industries all over the world will be there. We revel in the coming together of these seekers, April 3-6, Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor. Join Us.

Here’s how we make a difference with our questions. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit for STEM education. None of these dreams can come true without a new generation of seekers who speak the language of numbers, Math, who crave knowledge of the Universe, Science, who master the mechanics of materials and motion, Engineering, who pursue a life-long desire to be cutting edge in Math, Science, and Engineering, which creates Technology. STEM. Join US.

Another honorary member of the Space Foundation Board of Directors, Neil deGrasse Tyson, has warned, “The partisanship surrounding space exploration, and the retrenching of U.S. space policy, are part of a more general trend: the decline of science in the United States. As its interest in science wanes, the country loses ground to the rest of the industrialized world in every measure of technological proficiency.”  The Space Foundation is working hard to prevent this. Join Us.

Our headquarters houses the 47,000 square feet Discovery Center to inspire the next generation and educate the public about the importance of space. Last year, we had more than 40,000 visitors. We build awareness of the benefits of space through a Space Certification program that demonstrates how space technologies improve life on Earth. We created a Space in the Community program where we send teams of certified teachers with an astronaut to school districts for a week, to go to every school, to meet with local groups, to show the next generation what you can achieve if you are a seeker. We expand their horizons. Join Us.

I don’t know what else to tell you about the future of space, but I know what to tell you about the spirit of a seeker of space. We are going to press on. We will most certainly have some setbacks, but we will press on. There are young Buzz Aldrins and Neil Armstrongs, anxious to be inspired. I know that there will be tourism in space. “Exploration is wired into our brains.” I know that we will return to the Moon, and visit the moons of other planets. I know that we will go to Mars, even the stars. We need a new generation of seekers to get there. Join Us.

Shelli Brunswick

Space Foundation Chief Operating Officer and Acting CEO

This article is part of Space Watch: February 2017 (Volume: 16, Issue: 2).